Saturday, September 24, 2016

Life, Liberty & THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (Game Review)

  • Designers: Adrian Abela & David Chircop
  • Publishers: Artipia Games & Stronghold Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Ages: 12+
  • Times Played: 7 (with review copy provided by Stronghold Games)

I’m not sure what fascinates us about “life-building” games. Maybe we all imprinted on Milton Bradley’s oft-maligned ode to large families and stock investment (aka The Game of Life). Perhaps some of us managed to blunder into playing Parker Brothers much more enjoyable Careers - the game that first introduced customizable victory conditions and Uranium Mining as lucrative vocational choice.

Even as the technology of game design has advanced over the past 20 years, “life-building” games continue to pop up. Though not my cup of tea, you can dig into the seedier side of life with Steve Jackson’s Chez Geek franchise or 2F’s Funny Friends. Hasbro published a nifty little card game version of The Game of Life (that is sadly out of print)... and more recently Lapuduti (sp?) created CV (and the expansion, CV: Gossip). I really enjoyed my one play of CV… and it sat right on the edge of my “add to my next game order from my friendly online retailer” for a couple of years.

Though the particular game elements vary - CV uses a Yahtzee-like dice manipulation system, Chez Geek is a take-that card game and The Game of Life Card Game is tableau-builder with two different resources (Time & Money) used as action points - the basic idea of all of these games are the same: players start as teenagers and proceed through their lives, acquiring stuff, building relationships, choosing a vocation, and having various life experiences. Points are awarded for fulfilling goals and/or accumulating points - and the winner is the person with the most “satisfaction”. (Cue up the Stones as a soundtrack… and here’s a thought: it would be interesting - and a bit scary - to imagine a Rolling Stones themed “life building” game.)

That brings us to the newest addition to this particular gaming genre: The Pursuit of Happiness from Artipia Games and Stronghold Games. Pursuit uses a worker placement system as you spend time (hourglass markers) to create your best possible life and parlay those life choices into Long Term Happiness. (Why, yes, LTH is secret game code for “victory points”.)

The Facts of Life

Fact #1: No one in their right mind would name their child “Tootie”.
Fact #2: The Facts of Life TV show ran for nine seasons. Nine. (And Sports Night ran for two. There is no justice.)

And, with that out of my system, we’re back to the game.

There are five “commodities” in The Pursuit of Happiness:

  • Time (your “workers”)
  • Money
  • Connections
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge

Those commodities are spent to acquire cards that represent a variety of experiences and things:

  • Jobs
  • Relationships
  • Items & Activities
  • Projects (there are three types of projects)
    • Regular projects that take multiple hourglasses to complete
    • Group projects which multiple people can join in on… and the more people who particpate, the more rewards each participant receives
    • One time projects (such as appearing on a trivia game show)

These items and activities return a plethora of goodies for the player who invests:

  • Money
  • Resources (Connections, Creativity & Knowledge)
  • Relaxation (lose a Stress)
  • Short Term Happiness (we’ll get into that in more detail a few paragraphs later in the review)
  • Long Term Happiness (aka victory points)

4 Things I Really Like About The Pursuit of Happiness


Stress can kill you… in real life AND in The Pursuit of Happiness. Taking an action more than once (for example, taking on two Projects in one round) or working overtime or having too many things (Jobs, Projects & Relationships) going at once increase your stress. Let your stress go too far, and you can lose hourglasses (time).

There are also ways to relieve stress - for example, the Rest action gets you back 2 stress. Many activities have a stress-reducing component (called Relax) as well. And if you’re particularly health-minded, there are personal improvement projects that can results in increasing your lifespan and your available time.

Stress eventually will kill you. (Note: this is not a comment on my own vocational choices, but your mileage may vary.) In The Pursuit of Happiness, stress will take you to the end of life. The game timer is marked in rounds:

  • One round of being a Teen, where you can’t start a Relationship, can’t get a job, and can’t work overtime.
  • 5 rounds of being an Adult, when the options of life (within limits, of course) are all open to you
  • 3 rounds of Old Age, during which overtime is no longer an option… and your stress level increases until you reach the End of Life.

Short Term Happiness

One of the “goodies” you can receive is a green smiley face that indicates Short Term Happiness. This is a temporary commodity that lasts only for the current round and is used to:

  • Discount the cost of completing a project (reduce the number of resources needed)
  • Determine the start player for the next round

Of course, you can also have short term unhappiness - which causes projects to be more expensive.

One Time & Group Projects

Players can undertake projects - they start at the first level and it takes an hourglass (worker) and the appropriate resources to advance up to a higher level. The picture above shows one of those projects on the left... and, yes, the first level is "Personal Blog". (Sigh - evidently I'm stuck on level one in real life.)

The Pursuit of Happiness varies up the kind of projects available by two other types of projects.

One-time projects are events - the example above (in the center) is appearing on a Reality Show. You spend whichever level of resources you want - and receive the rewards for that project.

The group project (on the right) allows multiple players to get involved - and at the end of the round, the extra rewards for each player are noted at the bottom of the card. The more who participate, the better the rewards!

Promotions and Retirement

Jobs are not a single career in The Pursuit of Happiness... instead, you can be promoted (there are 3 levels of particular career paths) and eventually retire from a Level 3 job. You can switch careers as well.

Nice touch: all job cards are double-sided, so you can choose the job you most enjoy.

2 Things I Don’t Like About The Pursuit of Happiness

KS Promos

I’m not opposed to Kickstarter - I’ve just backed two games in the last week (Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black and Habitats). What I don’t love is leaving out the Kickstarter promos out of the base game box. (Note: Stronghold Games was not a part of the Kickstarter for The Pursuit of Happiness.)

According to BoardGameGeek, the promos include:

  • The Events mini-expansion adds special events that are drawn at random at the beginning of every adult round and come into effect at the beginning at the next round (4 in total).
  • The Trends mini-expansion adds special trends that are drawn at the beginning of the game and effect play throughout.
  • The Pets mini-expansion adds pets to the Item/Activity cards. Pets are different in that you do not have to use card actions to advance them - they do this by themselves during upkeep as long as you feed them (pay the upkeep cost).
  • The Stand-Alone Jobs mini-expansion consists of 3 new jobs that are shuffled in with the standard job cards. The difference between standard and stand-alone jobs are that with a stand-alone jobs you can not be promoted. Instead you can choose to work harder. This is done by paying up to two times the cost in the Work Harder section and thereby getting the same times the reward. This applies to the upkeep phase as well.

Man, I’d love to score a copy of these - this is a good game that would be enhanced by these small additions. (They are available through Artipia Games.)

[Note: the bulleted text in this section is taken directly from the BGG description.]

4 Players

Admittedly, I have only played The Pursuit of Happiness one time with a full complement of four players… but we found it ran a little long with four players. I would note that three of them were new to the game, which probably slowed us down a good bit.

I’m still a bit concerned about the downtime with four players… but before I make any sweeping generalization, I need to give it another try with four players who’ve played previously.

One Is The Loneliest Number

I've played two games "solo" of The Pursuit of Happiness - and while my record is 1-1, I enjoyed both experiences. The solo rules are not difficult or substantially different than the base game... and the key differences are contained on the Life Goal cards which act as part of your victory conditions in solitaire mode.

Variety Is The Spice of Life

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many different paths to victory (or near-victory) seem viable in this game:

  • Son the Younger managed to lose by only a few points without ever getting a profession.
  • Son the Older won a game by diving into a high-level job at the first opportunity.
  • I’ve won a couple of games with a more balanced strategy - sometimes leaning into projects and sometimes into possessions.

The Life Goals set out at the beginning of the game can sometimes direct players in a particular way - but the bonuses paid are not so large that they can't be overcome by skillful decisions to pursue other avenues for Long Term Happiness.

In Conclusion

Back in the second paragraph of this review, I noted that CV had been on my wishlist for the last couple years - but with The Pursuit of Happiness in my collection, I no longer feel a need to add CV as well. Both are very enjoyable games - but I give Pursuit the edge because of the shorter player turns (the dice manipulation in CV can slow down near the end of the game) and the creative variety of the tasks.

The components are nicely made - the art on the cards is cartoon-y but never rude and the board is laid out in an easy to comprehend fashion. The iconography on the cards is clear and easy to read (even upside down). I applaud the designers for their sense of humor - they found a nice balance of silly and sensible that make the game fun to play. (It would be easy to overplay the humor here - and they do a nice job of walking the line so that it doesn't interfere with game play or enjoyment.)

The Pursuit of Happiness is a friendly game - oh, yes, you can grab something that someone else wants, but you can’t block them from making forward progress. As well, only one player can receive a reward for life goals - so there’s a bit of a race there… but it’s not a cutthroat game experience. This makes ideal as a family game - and at the same time, there are a number of interesting decisions that make this gamer-friendly as well.

You could strip the theme off of the game and you'd have a standard worker placement game left - but that misses the point. The designers have done a great job of melding mechanic/ism and theme together - making the game easier to teach and enjoyable to play.

Frankly, I think what I most enjoy is telling the story of a life while getting the opportunity to make clever plays... and getting to do that with friends and family.

The Unofficial THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS Soundtrack Album

  • “Life in One Day” - Howard Jones
  • “Grow Old With You” - Adam Sandler
  • “Happy” - Pharrell Williams
  • “Turn, Turn, Turn” - The Byrds
  • “Cat’s in the Cradle” - Harry Chapin
  • “It Did” - Brad Paisley
  • “My Generation” - The Who
  • “The Time of My Life” - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
  • “When I’m 64” - The Beatles
  • “Don’t Fear the Reaper” - Blue Oyster Cult

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

1 comment:

ScottM said...

I've only played it once, but it seemed like a great way to take on the theme. (And yeah, worker/time placement is a great way to show deliberation.)